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How to: Cook Clean

My diet is pretty good, 80% of the time. I mostly eat Paleo, or ‘eat clean’, no processed food, no nasties, no ready meals, no cereals, or bread or white pasta carbs. Sounds boring? It’s not! It is actually rather damn tasty –  why not try my egg muffins for breakfast, minestrone soup for lunch and paleo lasagne for tea? While I have my recipes down pat, I do admit that my cooking technique leaves a little to be desired. I like butter. I like oil. I can’t do with fads like coconut oil or avocado oil, they make food taste weird. I like proper fat, proper flavour, proper gravy made with all the good stuff left in. I don’t cook clean.

I think I was possibly French in a previous life, or a cat, I’m always catching Lily the kitten trying to get at the leftover cooking juices… Ahem. Basically, what I am trying to say as however much green & paleo friendly food I put into me, I know that I go beyond a little bit of what you fancy a little bit too much – it’s not good for me. All the Blogilates videos in the world aren’t going to slim down my thighs or get rid of my pot belly if I don’t cut down on the good stuff. So, less oil, less butter… *cries*.

We all know that olive oil is top of the tree when it comes to healthy cooking fats, those Mediterranean folks aren’t the healthiest people in the world because they eat all the feta cheese. I just don’t need to slather it on everything… steaks on the griddle, chicken roasted with oregano, pork chops with a balsamic glaze… oh god this is a heartbreaking post to write. At least I don’t put olive oil on bacon. Oh that’s right, I cook my eggs in it.

Is removing fat from cooking actually an option? Tefal think so (here comes the sponsored bit, come on, stay with me, you will all want to try one of these babies after you’ve seen it) and they challenged me to use their new Tefal Optigrill to cook clean for a week. They say – one grill, no oil, perfect grilled meat, fish & veg. I said – challenge accepted. The TLDR the rest of this post? Well a) It works, b) I was impressed, c) I feel healthier already, it is perfect for the Paleo diet and d) you really do grill without fear!  

Look what I cooked…

Tefal Optigrill

The verdict

  • The Optigrill is a big piece of kit. I have had to find a whole cupboard to keep it in, special attention in my tiny kitchen.
  • The cooking plates are huge – check out the size of those rump steaks. 
  • You don’t have to stand and watch it. Switch it on, set your programme (steaks, chicken, fish, bacon or the manual setting) do stuff until it beeps, put your food on, wait until it beeps it is ready. It is that simple. I didn’t believe it though and spent a lot of time trying to encourage it. Sit down, have a glass of wine.
  • It is programmable to exactly how you like your food cooked. Unless it’s chicken. No one wants raw chicken. It comes out perfectly juicy.
  • You don’t need any oil. Just salt & pepper or any flavourings you fancy.
  • Bacon is amazing.
  • You can cook things from frozen, like sausages. They take an age (like an hour!) but if you’ve forgotten to sort tea out again it is a life saver. Frozen fish for example would be much quicker.
  • Steaks are cooked pretty good, but you will miss that caramelised taste you get from a griddle. Maybe that is me missing the oil.
  • It takes a long time to cool down, but the griddle plates are dishwashable, the little tray to catch the juices is not.
  • That little tray – love it – get those good bits into a pan quick to make a lovely peppercorn sauce. Or not if you are trying to be healthy like me.

… and on manual you can make the best cheese toasties I have ever had in my life. B agrees.

FullSizeRender (4)

So not paleo, but so good.

80% of the time, 80% of the time, I’ll just keep repeating that to myself.

Mrs Sx

Thanks to Tefal who sent me an Optigrill to review. If you fancy one yourself, they retail at around £150 in the UK from normal sources. 

paleo lasagna

Despite Smidge’s Kitchen going the way of most series I start on this blog, when I actually cook something I love, well I’d still like to share it with you. I hope you don’t mind – and actually try this! It is so tasty and pure comfort food on a plate, and apart from the cheese (got to have cheese on lasagne) perfect for paleo dieters as it replaces the pasta with layers of courgette and aubergine (or zucchini and eggplant if you are in the States) If you don’t eat Paleo you could replace the ricotta cheese topping with a white sauce.

This is for those like me who really miss lasagne…

Smidge’s Paleo Lasagna

paleo lasgne recipe


This makes enough for 4, or two meals!

You will need:
  • 500g of the best beef mince you can buy (this is a paleo restriction, I also prefer lower fat mince, less water to pour off)
  • 5 big mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • a big handful of spinach
  • a medium white onion, roughly chopped
  • a large courgette, sliced longways
  • an aubergine, sliced longways
  • a medium tub of ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • parmesan cheese to top
  • olive oil
  • mixed herbs
  • garlic
  • a beef stock cube (gluten free)
  • chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
To make the beef ragu
  • roughly chop the onion and lightly fry until translucent
  • add the beef mince and brown
  • add the mushrooms and brown
  • add the garlic, a good squeeze of tomato puree and a teaspoon of mixed herbs and stir
  • transfer the mixture to a large saucepan
  • add the chopped tomato and spinach leaves
  • cover and simmer on a medium heat for 20 minutes until thick and lovely
to make the cheese sauce
  • put the ricotta into a mixing bowl and add the egg
  • whisk up the cheese and egg together
  • add drops of water to the mixture amd whisk until its a thick cream consistency
Layer up!

Time to start layering your lasagne!

  • spread a thin layer of beef mixture to an oven dish
  • add a layer of courgette
  • cover thinly with the cheese mixture
  • add another layer of beef
  • add a later of aubergine
  • cover with the rest of the cheese mixture
  • top with grated parmesan
  • bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 40 mins

Serve with enough salad as you can handle. This is well more than your five a day! Let me know if you try it.

Mrs S x

meal planning – smidge’s way

Just over a year ago B and I’s food shopping bill was out of control; we were spending £10 here, £20 there popping into the small supermarket on the way home to pick up a pizza (and wine)… it was a total scattergun approach to meal times and it was costing us both financially. It was also costing me my health too as despite all the cameras inside me, food elimination diets and food allergy testing, I still had no idea (apart from weirdly, tiger bread) what would set me off.

Around the same time, I also realised that when I was stressed, cooking helped.  It wasn’t about the actual eating of the food but the process of preparing a meal that relaxed me. A tiny little light bulb went on in my head and I made a conscious decision to change my ways; more time in the kitchen for me, better food (and a fuller wallet) for both of us. We decided that from that point on I would cook everything from scratch and on a £200 a month budget  – for all meals, for two people, lunches and dinners – I am not promising we make that budget every month but I get pretty damn close!

We eat the Paleo diet 80% of the time (you can read my other Paleo posts here) and this is how we do it:

  • I meal plan every week (and do it online) - every sunday I choose 5 recipes for the week which I usually find via pinterest. I actually must admit I didn’t really understand pinterest until I started using it to find recipes but now when I have a spare moment I pop online and update my Paleo board with new AIP, Whole 30, and Paleo recipes so when it comes to my Sunday meal planning I have plenty of choice. The paleo diet (and the more restrictive variations like AIP) is my usual diet as it never uses packets or pre-made ingredients which immediately helps reduce the possibility (or craving!) for anything that could possible make me sick. I also look for ‘normal’ recipes where non-paleo carbs can be easily substituted for paleo alternatives.
  • I have a fully stocked larder - oils, vinegars (sherry, white, red) raw honey, muscovado sugar, gluten free worcester sauce (the only packaged sauce I use!) vegetarian bouillon, gluten free stock cubes and as many spices as I can fit in my kitchen. I buy jars of garlic, lemongrass, chilli, ginger for ease, but if you have allergies check the ingredients first. Having all the basics in means a much cheaper and quicker shop each week, it may seem more expensive at first but I promise it is better in the long run.
  • I don’t stick to the plan - most meals can be changed at the last minute if you don’t fancy them; planned a shepherds pie? Make meatballs instead. Even though I love cooking, and I want to make meals which test out new skills or flavours, on days I really don’t want to cook I don’t want to be faced with having to make something elaborate.  Each week I always choose a couple of easy recipes which I can throw in the oven or modify and forget about so I have more lounging on the sofa time.

As an example, this was last week’s meal plan:

  • This week’s soup – french onion (I made massive pot made on Sunday and it did us for the week for lunches)
  • Monday – chicken wrapped in pancetta, stuffed with garlic & herbs, served with left over veg from the sunday roast and topped up with some extra leeks & cabbage (done!)
  • Tuesday – goats cheese salad with sticky onions (made with sherry vinegar & brown sugar) and garlic & herb croutons to go with this as a non-paleo treat (done!)
  • Wednesday – my slow cooked bbq ribs with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob (done!)
  • Thursday – stuffed peppers with corgette, onion and chorizo, served with butternut squash chips (we actually ate in the pub!)
  • Friday – Moroccan shepherds pie – I was planning on using this recipe from Our Four Forks with balsamic sprouts (we actually had steak, sweet potato fries and wilted spinach)
  • Saturday – we usually eat out (which has a separate budget!) or have a steak as a treat (we also ate in the pub!)
  • Sunday – a roast dinner bought on the day with whatever veg I have left from the week (a curry with the mother-in law for Mother’s Day)
  • Breakfasts – eggs, bacon, avocado, tomato, spinach…. oh and chilli sauce!

goats cheese salad

Goats cheese salad with sticky onions

chicken pancetta leeks

Chicken with pancetta and leeks

paleo breakfast

Paleo breakfast

Now it hasn’t been plain sailing; as you can see we made it to Thursday without it all collasping. However it is a huge improvement on what we were doing before. I still find on days that i’m particularly stressed that I reach for the takeaway app on my phone (I crave sushi so often!) or suggest a ‘date night’ on the way home from work, but  I know that if I can get myself into the kitchen and actually start cooking that I will love it. I instantly relax, the stress goes out of my head and I focus on what is in front of me.  I also know I can actually cook – I have a good base starting point which means I rarely feel like a failure…. which is always a good thing!

Mrs S x

Paleo Hacks

I eat the Paleo (Primal, Whole 30) diet.

This is because:

  1. it makes me feel a lot better about myself; I am less sluggish, lighter and it beats the bloat,
  2. processed foods and ready meals tend to set off my IBS and contain things I don’t understand; and,
  3. I (think) it makes my dermatitis and rosacea better, well at least it reduces flare ups.

However I can admit that Paleo can be a total hassle (i’ve ranted about this before) but now I’ve been eating and cooking the diet for a few months and i’ve settled in to it a lot more I thought i’d write a guide to Paleo & my favourite Paleo hacks and tips. Btw before you read this, please please please remember  1) I am not a nutritionist and  2) I have no body hang ups or pre-conditions that make me treat food in an unusual way. This is my interpretation of a diet that hasn’t been scientifically proven, so please interpret things your own way. Mine is not necessarily the best!

Eat paleo at least 80% of the time…. and eat a balanced diet at all times

Don’t stress yourself, this is not a diet where you will be counting calories, so slipping up (or purposely cheating) is ok. Obviously if you are removing gluten, dairy or any other allergen because you are allergic to them or have a digestive disease, then don’t eat them. Eating 80% healthy and then stuffing yourself with overindulgence the other 20% is not a good way to approach food however you look at it.  A glass of red, proper 70% chocolate and milk in a single coffee to get you going in the morning is not going to ruin everything. Keeping things in balance will.

Don’t panic about not having enough starchy carbohydrates

Paleo is a low carb – high protein diet; which means no bread, white potatoes, pasta, rice, lentils, couscous etc… basically you aren’t allowed to eat anything which has been cultivated, or made from cultivated products. If like me you used to live on sandwiches, potatoes (or pasta) going paleo will mean at first you will miss stodge. What this really means in nutrient terms is that you are cutting out starchy foods which give you energy (plus there is nothing to soak up lovely sauces!) and your body will crave them.

However, there are lots of vegetables that that are just as good in starch terms and that will fill you up just as well:

  • roast veg is the easiest to cook – just bung a mix of carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potato, beetroot or squash in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • mash up whatever you can – either as a side dish or as a topping for mince dishes – you can use cauliflower, sweet potato, celeric, or carrot and swede.
  • Make a gratin – squash works well with this as it keep some bite. I won’t tell anyone if you use a little full fat cream or why not try coconut cream.
  • make an alternative – spiralize veg such as sweet potatoes for noodles and grind up cauliflower and fry off for rice (though this is not my favourite to be honest but a lot of people seem to love it by the amount of recipes there are on pinterest)
  • add spice – roast butternut squash with cumin makes an excellent side to curry dishes, plantains also work well if you are cooking anything north african.

Choose the right type of protein 

Once you’ve got over the fact that a simple bowl of pasta is now a treat, and have stopped focusing on the carbs you will find that most paleo recipes call for a lot of meat; especially bacon. Now I don’t like to eat meat everyday as it makes life very expensive and eating lots of meat isn’t exactly balanced in terms of fats and with bacon, lots of salt. We can’t all afford grass-fed beef from the best farm in the Scottish Highlands either.

So for balence, replace meat with fish, or to keep up the protein on meat-free days work in more eggs (try frittata, or crustless quiches) eat avocado with everything (it is a good fat – promise!) and never let your fridge be without kale & spinach. Saute kale with onions, red pepper or chilli flakes and red wine vinegar, or bake it in the oven as crisps.

pork roulade paleo

Pork roulade stuffed with spinach, bacon and mushrooms

Keep an eye on what vegetables you are eating

All the vegetables I have mentioned above are paleo, but if you really want to go the whole hog you need to cut out legumes as well. A legume is the fruit or seed of a plant and they aren’t Paleo as they contain toxic anti-nutrients called lectins and phytic acid. Lectins are blamed for the newest craze in tummy problems, the leaky gut (i’m not yet a believer) and phytic acids can prevent you absorbing minerals.

I’m not 100% convinced by this, and I do miss a chilli without kidney beans so I do occasionally use them. Alone they don’t contain enough bad stuff to cause me problems – its just that you replace refined carbs with beans (or lentils etc) to bulk up that you start consuming larger quantities. In general, to be Paleo, avoid any form of beans, including french beans, mange tout, and chick peas.

Do or don’t do dairy – you decide

So dairy isn’t Paleo. We didn’t milk cows back when the world was full of wild game; we just shot it with bows instead. But we do need milk and other dairy products as part of a healthy diet. As I think Paleo man would have milked a goat or two if they’d thought about it, I don’t totally cut dairy out. However, I do place it fully in my 20%, so I have whole milk, cream and good cheese as a treat. The rest of the time if I can substitute dairy with coconut milk I will. I have yet to go down the ghee route, although a lot of Paleo sites sing the virtue of clarified butter.

Don’t sweat the sweet stuff

Paleo recipes don’t call for sugar to be added so going on Paleo will mean you cut a lot of sugar out straight away; unlike all the hidden sugar in ready meals. However if you cook a lot of Asian food then raw honey is your friend. Go for the best you can afford to buy and use a little when you need a sticky sauce. The darker and unrefined the sugar the better. Same for chocolate. As i said at the start, a few squares won’t kill the diet stone dead. As for dessert, paleo baking is pretty crap, so unless you are allergic to certain ingredients, just eat your cake and enjoy it.

So what can you eat?

Well, i’m contantly cooking new Paleo recipes, so follow my Paleo Pinterest boards for ideas. My instagram is also a source of both great and crazy (but still tasty) disasters like this recent fritatta!


Are you cooking Paleo? Let me know!

Mrs S x

this girl can’t, not yet

By now you’ve probably seen the This Girl Can film. If not watch it. It has been made by Sport England to celebrate active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. One of the sports in the video is a Zumba class, shown to be exciting, energetic, and most of all, fun. It has taken the internet by storm and celebrated for its realism and positive message.

However, I have a tale of the other side, the reality of this, and one that we all really should be getting to the heart of.

Last week I did a Zumba class. Now I’ve done Zumba before, and had a little dance experience, but it had been two years since I’d followed a teacher (or watched myself in the mirror doing it!) so I was basically a beginner. I’d been looking forward to dancing again and spent the first 30 minutes of the hour class loving it. Yes I was uncoordinated, yes I kept messing up, but I was doing it with a massive grin on my face. I was one of the girls on the video.

Then something changed. At the water break the instructor made a beeline directly to me and in front of a class of about 15 women singled me out in front of everyone to tell me that it was ‘ok if I wasn’t getting it, at least I was moving’.

Lets repeat what I just said above, yes I was uncoordinated, yes I kept messing up, but I was doing it with a massive grin on my face. Thanks to some clumsy language from the instructor – that massive grin – was gone. For the next 30 minutes any co-ordination I did have totally disappeared, along any enjoyment of the class I’d been having. There were others in the class just as uncoordinated as me – maybe she thought I could take it as the smile I had on my face looked like confidence. It wasn’t.

So to the ‘This Girl Can’ film – whilst i’ll say well done to them for a highly commendable stance and a fantastic campaign and video – the video does not show how (although it is on the website) that “the fear of judgement is stopping many of us from taking part in exercise. But as thousands of women up and down the country are proving, it really doesn’t have to”.

Yes judgement. Judgement and the confidence to be judged. That’s what really stops people. Not the jiggly bits, not the red face, not the hard work. In any sport, as a beginner, you will be uncoordinated and hopeless at it. To get to the point that the girls are at in the video you have to have confidence in the beginning to show that you are hopeless, and more importantly confidence to be able to expect that the people around you – especially the instructor – will not judge you whilst you try and try and try again. If this happens, then this girl really can.

Mrs S x

EDIT: I just want to point out that despite this incident I am going back to Zumba, as despite one person’s comments, I do really enjoy it – and I deserve to #thisgirlcan

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